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Do you have to believe in God to have good values and be moral?

Most Americans say no, as do most adults in advanced economies around the world.

Pew Research Center recently unveiled these findings in a report that compared Americans’ ideas about morality to the beliefs found in other countries. The study showed that there’s really no such thing as American exceptionalism, at least when it comes to ethics-related assumptions.

Here are the patterns visible in most of the countries Pew studied:

  • The share of adults who say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values is typically at least twice as high as the share who say it is necessary.
  • Unsurprisingly, people who aren’t religious themselves are more likely to say belief in God is not necessary than those who are more religious.
  • Those on the political left are generally less concerned about belief in God than those on the political right. “Sweden is the only country where roughly the same shares on the left and right agree that you can have good values without believing in God,” Pew reported.
  • In about half of the countries studied, younger adults are significantly more likely than older ones to say someone can be moral without believing in God.
  • Education also appears to affect people’s ideas about morality. Adults with a college degree are more likely than those without one to say good values are possible without belief in God.

Two countries that do stand out in the new report are Sweden and Malaysia — but for different reasons. In Sweden, very, very few adults think religion drives morality, while in Malaysia, the opposite is true.

“Roughly 1 in 5 Malaysians believe that people can be moral without believing in God. In every other country surveyed, at least half of people hold this view,” Pew reported.

Note: If you’d like to explore more Pew Research Center data about religious beliefs and practices around the world, check out the center’s new website for its global religion data.

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Term of the week: Railroad chapel cars

Railroad chapel cars were train cars designed to host worship services. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they traveled along the tracks, enabling religious leaders to offer spiritual comfort to people living in remote areas of the rapidly expanding United States, according to JSTOR Daily.

The first one, built in 1890, was used by an Episcopal priest. Baptist pastors were next to jump on the trend, the article said. Catholics eventually got in on the trend, too.

“Free passage, which was granted to most chapel cars ... until World War I, was crucial to their success. Without the gift of free passage, operating the chapel cars would have been cost prohibitive,” JSTOR Daily reported.

Around 13 railroad chapel cars served the country between 1890 and the end of World War II. They became less popular starting in the 1940s as automobiles came to dominate American life.

“The last car retired in the 1970s,” JSTOR Daily reported.

What I’m reading ...

A building project 60 years ago left a legacy of frustration and pain in Pittsburgh, particularly within the Black church community that was forced to relocate amid the changes. Now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are helping to make the situation right, The Associated Press reports.

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Christian college students and others are now free to evangelize in Chicago’s Millennium Park — including near its best-known statue, “The Bean” — after a group of former Wheaton students won their free speech case against the city, according to Christianity Today.

If you had a chance to pretend to be Jesus Christ as part of a video game, would you take it? Christianity Today recently reported on a new game that gives players that chance.

Odds and ends

I couldn’t resist clicking on a recent Washington Post column titled “Your next engagement ring should be a bike,” and the accompanying story did not disappoint. It’s about designing events — and making purchases — that are truly special, rather than simply following societal expectations.

Sometimes I like to imagine what my life would be like if, instead of writing about religion-related lawsuits, I wrote about the most unbelievable battles over food advertising.

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